A bipartisan group of Wisconsin lawmakers proposed a new kind of election system for Congressional races on Friday, arguing that the state’s existing system exacerbates partisanship and discourages compromise.
Currently in Wisconsin, the winners of party primaries compete in the general election. This bill proposes switching to “Final-Five” voting, which would require nonpartisan, single-ballot primaries in federal races. The top five candidates would then proceed to the general election, where voters would vote on ranked-choice ballots to determine a winner through an instant runoff. Last year, Alaska voters approved a similar “Top Four” measure by ballot initiative.
“Right now, members of Congress really don’t have the freedom to work in a bipartisan fashion because they can be taken out in a low-turnout party primary,” said state Sen. Jeff Smith, a Democrat from Eau Claire and co-sponsor of the bill.
Still, it would need to capture the support of a Republican-controlled Legislature to pass, and less than half the bill’s sponsors are from the GOP.
“It’s gonna be an uphill battle,” said state Sen. Dale Kooyenga, a Republican from Brookfield and co-sponsor of the bill.
Kooyenga told NBC News the current primary system gives voters “a two-dish buffet, which isn’t a much of a buffet,” and that this bill would instead elect lawmakers who can find common ground.
“Policy making is often the art of compromise and deliberation and social media and a primary process is often the process of getting a quick hit, getting a quick blow, and looking like a fighter all the time,” he said.
Ranked-choice voting, which the bill employs for general elections, has grown in popularity in recent years.
Here’s how it works: Voters are asked to rank candidates in order of preference. A candidate must win a majority of the popular vote to win; if no candidate reaches that threshold when votes are first tabulated, the last place candidate is eliminated. Voters who ranked the last-place candidate as their first choice then have their votes recast for their second-choice candidate, if they listed it. The process repeats, and the results are re-tabulated, until one candidate has won a majority of voter support.
Katherine Gehl, whose family founded a Wisconsin-based food distributor, is a key advocate oh the bill. In 2018, she co-founded Democracy Found, an organization dedicated solely to the measure’s passage. Andy Nunemaker, who hosted a fundraiser for former President Donald Trump in 2016, is also backing it.